Behind the News – October 2020
Oct 5, 2020 | AIJAC staff
Rocket and Terror Report
Six rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Aug. 28, all landing in open areas.
Incendiary balloons and rocket fire ceased for two weeks after Hamas and Israel agreed to calm tensions, in a deal brokered by Qatar, on Aug. 31, but restarted immediately after the Sept. 15 signing ceremony of the Israel-UAE-Bahrain normalisation agreements in Washington.
On Sept. 15 and 16, Gazan factions fired at least 15 rockets at Israel, eight of which were intercepted by Iron Dome. Two Israelis were injured by a rocket that struck Ashdod.
On Aug. 26, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli civilian to death in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah. On Sept. 2, a Palestinian carried out a car-ramming and attempted stabbing in the northern West Bank, injuring a soldier and policeman.
On Sept. 14, Jewish terrorist Amiram Ben Uliel was given three life sentences for the firebombing of the Dawabsha family home in the West Bank Palestinian town of Duma, killing three people, in 2015.
Arab League Turns Against the Palestinians
At a virtual meeting of the Arab League on Sept. 9, the Palestinian Authority (PA) failed to persuade the League to condemn the normalisation deal between the UAE and Israel, even on the technical basis that it went against the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. That initiative, which the League had formally adopted, said normalisation should not take place before Israeli agreed to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines.
On Sept. 22, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced that the PA would not be taking up the six-month chairmanship of the Arab League it was due to assume under the League’s leadership rotation system. Al-Maliki said, “There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during [Palestine’s] presidency.”
Separately, the Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Saeb Erekat announced on Sept. 8 that most Arab countries had stopped paying their dues towards the PLO budget.
Meanwhile, there were hopes that a meeting between Sudan, the US and the UAE in Abu Dhabi that took place in late September may lead to Sudan normalising relations with Israel shortly, after months of talks.
Saudi-Israel airspace agreement
All flights to and from Israel will soon be permitted to overfly Saudi Arabia, according to senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, speaking on Sept. 8. This is a significant development since in an earlier statement, made on Sept. 2 in the wake of the announcement of the Israel-UAE normalisation deal, Riyadh had only said that it would allow overflight by flights between Israel and the UAE.
Extending this permission to all eastward travel from Israel avoids the need for Israeli planes to detour along the Red Sea, saving significant time for many travellers to and from Israel, including from Australia. Saudi Arabia also stands to benefit by using Israeli airspace to cut the flight time needed to reach Europe.
Iran uranium enrichment almost enough for two bombs
The periodical report on Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), released on Sept. 4, reveals that Teheran has now enriched approximately two tons of uranium, which is 10 times the amount of low enriched uranium it was allowed to stock under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA). This means Iran has almost enough fissile material for two atomic warheads, with the breakout time needed to produce enough military-grade uranium for a bomb estimated at three to four months.
In mid-September, IAEA inspectors reportedly visited a site in Iran suspected of being part of the clandestine Amad nuclear weapons project, which ceased operations around 2003. The monitors were also scheduled to visit another such site a few weeks later, after their access to both locations had previously been blocked by Teheran.
Qatar allegedly funded Hezbollah arms
Qatar funded and facilitated a Hezbollah arms shipment from Serbia to Lebanon in an elaborate scheme paid for by Ugandan gold, according to a new report by the Austrian-based think tank Mena-Watch.
According to the Sept. 8 report, the trade, which took place in 2017, involved high-level Qatari officials, including a member of its royal family. Arms, labelled as building materials and badged as local steel goods, were reportedly moved through North Macedonia and Greece, and from there shipped from Thessaloniki to Beirut.
The arms dealers were reportedly paid in Ugandan gold that had been purchased by Qatari-based charities.
New embassies in Jerusalem
On Sept. 21, Honduras became the most recent nation to announce it would move its embassy to Jerusalem, joining the US and Guatemala. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said he hoped this would happen before the end of the year, pandemic permitting.
On Sept. 5, the President of Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera, declared his country’s intention to open an embassy in Jerusalem.
This followed announcements on Sept. 4 by Serbia that it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and from Muslim majority Kosovo that it would recognise Israel and also open an embassy in Jerusalem. However, both Serbia and Kosovo came under pressure not to do so by the European Union. European officials warned establishing embassies in Jerusalem could adversely affect Serbia’s and Kosovo’s EU membership bids.
Further complicating the issue, Serbia is also reportedly unlikely to go ahead with the embassy move if Israel recognises Kosovo.
ICC closes Mavi Marmara war crimes investigation
On Sept. 16, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it had closed for good its investigation into allegations that Israeli security forces had committed war crimes when, in 2010, they intercepted the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as it tried to breach the blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the battle.
This was the third time the ICC’s Pretrial Chamber had pushed ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with the case, and the third time she had decided to close her probe.
Among the reasons given for her decision was that the matter had been investigated by the IDF legal division, effectively finding that the Israeli investigation met the requirements of the ICC.
Bensouda also noted that the Israeli forces had attempted to use non-military means to take control of the ship, and had swiftly provided medical aid to those injured in the battle, suggesting they had observed international law.
Israel reimposes lockdown over COVID-19 surge
The Israeli Government decreed a nationwide lockdown on Sept. 19, its second since the coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year, to combat a dangerous second wave of infections sweeping the country. As of Sept. 23, Israel had 58,402 active cases, with 658 in serious condition. New daily cases reached an all-time high of 6,948 on Sept. 23. On that date, Israel had amassed a total of 200,041 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began, with a death toll of 1,316.
In the Palestinian Territories, according to reports from Palestinian health officials, 8,683 active cases had been recorded in the West Bank and 1,669 in Gaza as of Sept. 14. Particularly in Gaza, it is thought that the actual number of cases is higher due to low testing rates. The West Bank’s coronavirus death toll was 206, and Gaza’s 15, as of Sept. 10.
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